What makes Tunisia a unique country to travel to?
Tunisia is a republic with a developing economy. Tourist facilities are widely available in large urban and major resort areas. Arabic is the official language and French is also common.
The U.S. Embassy notes a rise in criminal activity in recent months. High value items left unattended and visible to others have been stolen from vehicles, hotel rooms, and private residences. Additionally, muggings have occurred during daylight hours in upscale neighborhoods; in some cases these encounters have turned violent when the victim tried to resist. Travelers should remain vigilant of their surroundings and take care to secure their valuables as prominently displayed cash or jewelry may attract unwanted attention. Any thefts or attempted robberies should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Embassy.
Criminals have targeted tourists and business travelers for theft, pick pocketing, and scams. Exercise care with wallets and other valuables kept in handbags or backpacks that can be easily opened from behind in crowded streets or marketplaces. Criminals may violently grab at items worn around the neck (purses, necklaces, backpacks) and then run away, sometimes causing injury to their victims. Criminals have been known to rob pedestrians by snatching purses and handbags from their victims while on a motorcycle.
Harassment of unaccompanied females occurs rarely in hotels, but it occurs more frequently elsewhere. Dressing in a conservative manner can diminish potential harassment, especially for young women. It is always wise to travel in groups of two or more people. Women are advised against walking alone in isolated areas. Travelers are advised to avoid buses and commuter rail when possible, and to never enter a taxi if another passenger is present.
U.S. citizens resident in Tunisia are also advised to refrain from leaving items of value unattended in the yards of their homes, as there have been reports of theft of items such as tools and bicycles.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, which are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, you may be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Tunisia, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Tunisia, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical care in Tunisia is adequate, with a number of new, private “polyclinics” available that function as simple hospitals and can provide a variety of procedures. Specialized care or treatment may not be available. Facilities that can handle complex trauma cases are virtually non-existent. While most private clinics have a few physicians who are fluent in English, the medical establishment uses French and all of the ancillary staff in every clinic communicates in Arabic and/or French. Public hospitals are overcrowded, under-equipped, and understaffed. In general, nursing care does not conform to U.S. standards.
Immediate ambulance service may not be available outside urban areas. Even in urban areas, emergency response times can be much longer than in the United States. Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for healthcare services, although some hospitals may accept credit cards. Over-the-counter medications are available; however, travelers should bring with them a full supply of medications that are needed on a regular basis. The U.S. Embassy in Tunis maintains a list of doctors and medical practitioners (dentists, etc.) who can be contacted for assistance.
Safety and Security
The current Travel Warning for Tunisia warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Tunisia.
A popular revolution led to the ouster of the former President in January 2011. Elections were held in October 2011, a new government assumed office in December 2011 and the drafting of a new constitution continues. General elections are expected in late 2013.
On September 14, 2012, a violent mob attacked the U.S. Embassy and the American Cooperative School of Tunisia, resulting in extensive damage to the Embassy and the school. Following the attack, the Tunisian authorities arrested some individuals suspected of involvement. The security situation in Tunisia remains unpredictable and a state of emergency remains in force. While most tourist and business centers remain calm, sporadic episodes of civil unrest have occurred throughout the country.. U.S. citizens should avoid large crowds and demonstrations because even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable. U.S. citizens should be alert and aware of their surroundings and maintain security awareness at all times. U.S. citizens should regularly monitor the local news media for current news and information. Travelers contemplating trips to the interior of the country should assess local conditions and routes when making travel plans, as conditions can change quickly. For more information please review the Travel Warning for Tunisia.
Tunisian nationals have been involved in international terrorism, and international terrorist organizations have on multiple occasions called for attacks in North Africa, including Tunisia.
Tunisian security forces have noted the increased availability of small arms and other weapons in Tunisia since 2011. There have been occasional clashes between armed groups, resulting in casualties and the declaration of temporary curfews. U.S. citizens should carefully consider all travel in the interior and avoid travel in remote regions in the south of Tunisia. All travel south of the designated military zone in the south must be coordinated in advance with Tunisian authorities. The Tunisian National Guard encourages persons traveling into the desert to register their travel beforehand. For details on how and where to register, please visit the U.S. Embassy’s desert travel page.
Tunisia has open borders with Algeria and Libya. Nevertheless, developments in Libya continue to affect the security situation along the border areas between Libya and Tunisia. The Ras Jedir and Dehiba border crossings may be closed occasionally and access to both crossings is strictly controlled by Tunisian security forces. Travelers should consult with local authorities before travelling to the border between Libya and Tunisia and read the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Libya.
In late April 2013, the Tunisian authorities announced ongoing security operations against armed groups in the mountainous border areas of Kasserine and Le Kef. Some security forces were injured by improvised explosive devices (IEDS). Like the border with Libya, some crossings may be closed occasionally and access is strictly controlled by Tunisian and Algerian security forces. Travelers should consult with local authorities before travelling to the border between Algerian and Tunisia and read the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Algeria.
Please refer to the Country Specific Information and other international travel safety and security information for Libya and Algeria. Please see the section below on Traffic Safety and Road Conditions for more information about traveling in the desert.
Government security forces, including the army, police, and National Guard, are visibly present throughout Tunisia. Travelers should heed directions given by uniformed security officials, and are encouraged to always carry a copy of their passport as proof of nationality and identity. Security personnel, including plainclothes officials, may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. It is against Tunisian law to photograph government offices and other security facilities. Suspicious incidents or problems should be reported immediately to Tunisian authorities and the U.S. Embassy.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Tunisia, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Tunisia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Tunisia can be dangerous. Visitors should avoid driving after dark outside Tunis or the major resort areas. Drivers fail to obey the rules of the road even in the presence of the police. Traffic signs and signals are often ignored, and drivers sometimes drive vehicles on the wrong side of the road. Faster drivers tend to drive on the left while slower drivers stay to the right. Traffic lane markings are widely ignored. Bicycles, mopeds, and motorcycles are operated without sufficient lights or reflectors, making them difficult to see darting in and out of traffic. Motorists should also be aware of animals on the roads, particularly in rural areas.
Pedestrians present an additional challenge as they continuously dodge traffic (even on controlled-access highways) and do not pay attention to vehicles. Pedestrians and cyclists should be aware that drivers rarely yield and will not always stop at either crosswalks or stoplights. Defensive driving is a must when driving in Tunisia. Drivers may be stopped for inspection by police officers within cities and on highways at any time, and drivers should comply.
Drivers should also be aware that if they are involved in a motor accident that results in death or serious injury of another person, the police may take them into protective custody until they are absolved of responsibility. This can mean spending a period varying from one day to two months in detention. As with any arrest or detention, U.S. citizens taken into custody should immediately request that the police inform the Embassy of their whereabouts.
Travel in the desert areas of southern Tunisia presents additional challenges. Many roads are not paved and even well-traveled routes are subject to blowing sands that can create hazards for vehicles. Persons driving off the major paved roads are encouraged to ensure that their vehicles are appropriate for off-road driving conditions, and are equipped with appropriate spares and supplies, including water and food. Groups should generally travel in multiple vehicles, so if a vehicle becomes disabled or immobilized, the group can return in the operable vehicle(s). Desert regions are subject to extreme temperatures, from sub-freezing evenings in the winter to dangerously hot daytime temperatures in the summer. In addition, there are many areas in the southern desert regions with little or no cellular telephone service. The Tunisian National Guard encourages persons traveling into the desert to register their travel beforehand.
Emergency services are widely available in the larger towns. They can be less reliable in rural areas. Emergency service numbers are:
Police (Police secours): 197
Fire Department: 198
Ambulance (SAMU): 190
Towing (SOS Remorquage 24/24): 71 801 211, 71 840 840
Tunisian Tourism Board : http://www.tourisme.gov.tn/.